The Jakarta Post | Wed, 01/20/2010 9:46 AM | Opinion
For the devout, religion is a way of life. They look to what is condoned in their religion for what to eat, what to wear, whether to use contraceptives, etc. As needs arise, the faithful turn to religious scholars for answers not found in their holy books.
Why some would ask the ulema whether it is okay for women to straighten their hair, or ride an ojek (motorcycle taxi), is not quite clear; except that, now and then, new questions crop up on a wide range of activities, reflecting the anxious desire to express devotion in cities large and small.
A member of the Indonesian Ulema Council said the ban on hair treatment was “exaggerating", reports said, “because what is haram is the exposure of women’s hair” to men who are not her muhrim (members of her family).
Whatever the precise reason, last week a group of ulema gathering in East Java said it was haram for women to change the shape and color of their hair, for it entailed changing their physical appearance to attract the opposite sex, unless it was for the husband, and with his permission.
The 250 leaders of pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) said the ulema also banned women from riding an ojek because of the potential of brushing up against the male driver who was not her husband or relative. They added that women can’t work as ojek drivers either “because it would be hard for them to avoid sinful acts and matters that could lead to slander,” except if they only catered to female passengers.
Another surprising edict was one on prewedding photo shoots – the ones seen on the wedding invitations. This is also haram, the ulema said, because in such circumstances the couples are unmarried but already mixing with each other.
All this may secure a Golden Globe for the most entertaining edict, if ever there was one. But at the end of the day, moderation and common sense must win in the current war over values.
Many would opt to ignore the report from East Java, dismissing it as a product of backward ulema. But its capital, Surabaya, is the country’s second largest city, which, like Jakarta, should be a benchmark when it comes to regulation of society.
“Talibanization”, to put it coarsely, cannot be given space in a nation which is learning the hard way how and why our founding fathers endured a gruelling debate on whether the new independent country should be based on religious or secular foundations. A woman here appreciates her right to wear the veil or not, but may feel differently over having the ulema rule on whether she can ride an ojek, or on how she can make an honest living.
The Indonesian Muslim here would appreciate their ulema much more if they tackled society’s most troubling challenges. If corruption is a crime, then where is the edict which tells us it is haram for the pesantren to receive billions in donations originating from graft and money laundering?
With so many pressing issues, it is high time our learned scholars move away from their narrow pet motive of “protecting” women and society in the name of God.